Sunday, April 05, 2009


I'm a big fan of J Street, and that hasn't changed. But Mira Vogel of Greens Engage writes something that I have noticed and does bother me: J Street is awfully mushy on the topic of anti-Semitism.
This position on Caryl Churchill is a manifestation of an aspect of J-Street that makes me uncomfortable. It’s not the entirety of J-Street - it’s the part which tries to fend off antisemitism with appeasement. “They say there’s a Jewish lobby? Well, we’ll show them a second Jewish lobby which speaks against the one they hate. We’ll be seen to criticise Israel. We’ll be recognised as US patriots. And then they’ll leave us alone”. The pathos is acute.

It's the good Jews all over again. With the prevalence of the Livingstone Formulation amongst the left-wingers that they wish to convert, J Street seems to think the best way to counter is by studiously refusing to call anything anti-Semitic (except, presumably, the most obscene cases). This is how one wins credibility on what passes for today's left; or it would, if it works. And I'm not sure it will -- Mr. Livingstone's fellow travelers are quite adept at recasting any criticism of leftist orthodoxies on Israel as knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism.

But to an extent, this is besides the point. Since I don't think a genuine left can take such a blase attitude towards resurgent anti-Semitic attitudes (even when they don't rise to the level of murderous violence), J Street's approach is more than just aggravating: it's an indictment of its professed political position. If J Street is going to be what it aspires to be, it can't take the easy way out. It might look more difficult to build a genuine pro-peace alternative to AIPAC without this form of appeasement. But I think J Street will find the people whom it thinks it is appealing to through this tact will not be true friends when push comes to shove. In any event, if J Street wanted to do things easy, it could have merged with AIPAC. There's a reason I and many others are looking for an alternative, and it isn't because we're just looking for another set of cliches to jump to.


PG said...

The link doesn't provide an example of "recasting [J Street's] criticism of leftist orthodoxies on Israel as knee-jerk accusations of anti-Semitism." Unless this actually has been happening to J Street -- that is, its leeriness of calling out anti-Semitism has proven useless in establishing a reputation as a place that *doesn't* equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism -- I don't see a reason for them to change strategy.

As for the linked Z Word post, while my Spanish has degenerated in the 12 years since my last class in it, from what I understand the El Pais readers' editor says that the ambassador's letter included references to the Holocaust in scolding the newspaper for "manifestaciones de odio y violencia hacia Israel," which makes it rather difficult to understand the letter as purely a defense of Israel as nation-state. I don't understand why the ambassador would reference an anti-Semitic genocide while criticizing someone for fomenting hatred and violence against Israel, unless the ambassador's intent is to imply that hatred toward Israel necessarily connects with hatred of Jews.

David Schraub said...

What I'm arguing is that J Street's forebearance won't actually help them if and when they eventually do have to take on a left-wing "critic" of Israel -- they'll find they'll get hit with a Livingstone same as everyone else.

The Livingstone formulation, incidentally, is not verified when someone says "X criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic". The Livingstone claim is that any criticism automatically gets the tag. The title of the El Pais article is "Is criticizing the government of Israel antisemitic?" But that isn't the Israeli ambassadors claim -- it might be that your criticism (or parts thereof) are anti-Semitic; not that criticism, in general, is anti-Semitic.

PG said...

Has J Street never taken on a left-wing critic of Israel? I am surprised.

Technically, the most literal translation of the headline would be, "Is it anti-Semitic to criticize the Israeli Government?"

Bruce said...

Excellent comment. I have noticed in connection with three isssues now what I consider to be an extremely unfortunate inclination on the part of J Street to conflate its refreshingly "new" approach to I-P matters with adoption of lefty orthodox positions that will, I believe, alienate the Jewish moderates and progressives who are J Street's natural base. The first issue was its support of our participation in the Durban II conference, the second its kneejerk criticism of all Jewish critics of Chas Freeman, and the third its gooey defense of Ms. Churchill's play. Each position, of course, is defensible and presumably were taken in good faith. But doesn't an organization like J Street have to pay attention with what it's fundamental position is all about and should not that influence it's position on less fundamental issues. I think the answer is clear.